Government’s actions hindering way Americans access social media could affect election

Multiple news outlets have put out stories regarding the ban of TikTok for American users due to the concern of national security. Photo by: Leila LaJoie.

OSWEGO, N.Y. — The social media platform TikTok could possibly be banned for users in the United States if the parent company, ByteDance does not come to an agreement to sell the app.

The possibility of a ban comes as the House of Representatives passed a bill on March 13 that would give ByteDance up to six months to sell TikTok to a United States company. The House’s decision was due to national security risks in which the Chinese government could spy on American users, however some Americans have said it is to restrict or limit what is being put out on social media.

“Yes, we should be concerned about privacy and how they could be used by the Chinese government for national security reasons,” said Jason Zenor, a professor of communication studies at SUNY Oswego. “But propaganda I think that is more of a red herring, there is no proof right now that TikTok is pushing propaganda, it could become a concern, but might be more of a political defense.”

In 2020, the Trump administration tried to ban the app for the concern of security. However, it was unsuccessful due to the judge granting a preliminary injunction against the Trump administration.

The process of working on a ban has become smoother than in 2020 because compared to last time, “security risks are more clear,” said Allison Rank, a professor of American politics at SUNY Oswego. 

If there is no decision made in terms of selling TikTok it will eventually be taken off the app store by the end of summer. Users in America will still have the application available on their phone, however will not be able to access new updates; which will likely lead to users deleting it off their devices over having to stay on older software for the app. 

The ban is not necessarily the first issue people think of regarding politics, but it is starting to come up in conversation and discourse since TikTok has become one of the more popular applications across the board. According to Forbes, in 2022 TikTok was the top social media app in the first quarter of the year.

The main reason is its algorithm. However, the app has also become popular because of its wide variety of users as well as now offering other options that Instagram started such as livestreaming and being able to shop online. The platform has also allowed for many to use their accounts to put out content and earn money while doing so through options such as the Creator Fund.

Given the different uses the platform can provide for users, many have spoken about the negative connotation it could bring if there is no deal struck, such as some of the students on the SUNY Oswego campus.

Sean Drum, a creative writing and filmmaking major on campus, was one of the students who commented on a possible ban.

“I don’t have TikTok or really any social media, but this ban is a hot topic distraction issue,” said Drum. 

He said he viewed the possible ban as a way for the government to have ownership over United States users, in regard to information being censored or not. Drum then used an example of this with comparing how currently there is coverage from users regarding the conflict between Gaza and Israel. Where the content supporting Gaza could be inconvenient for the United States government as they are allies with Israel.

Other students also said this ban does not add up over the reasoning the government has put out, such as Kyle Schnauffer, a broadcasting major on campus.

“I think it’s a little bit disingenuous for the government to say, ‘hey the TikTok app is going to steal information’ when all the social media platforms do that,” said Schnauffer.

Schnauffer then acknowledged that he sees the government wanting to push the selling of TikTok to an American-based company not because of security reasons, but rather to make the popular platform American-owned. Currently, the app is competing with others such as Instagram and Facebook who are owned by Meta, an American-based technology company. 

Some students did find positives outcomes to the possible ban, such as Danielle Rahal, a zoology major on campus.

Rahal noted that there were pros and cons to the ban. Their cons regarded that the ban could bring less awareness to social movements and become a distraction tactic run by the government. However, they acknowledged there are possible pros to come out as well. 

“I think that banning it is also going to do some good because it is going to force people, like little kids, to get outside again,” said Rahal.

They also point out that given the huge platform TikTok has, this could also allow people to be “less inclined to follow the trends,” said Rahal. “Bringing more individuality back.”

Beyond just a few students voicing what they see the outcome of a ban producing, there are also others such as influencers, celebrities, and political figures voicing their thoughts online to their audience. Countless videos posted online in reaction to a possible ban have been similar to what some of the students have said on campus regarding the cons, but that doesn’t determine if the ban will not go through.

It is still up in the air on if a decision will be made between ByteDance and an American company to take over TikTok. Given the unknown of this decision, voters might not pay much attention to the ban until the nation inches closer to the election in November where it will be declared by then if an American company was successful in buying the platform or not.